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Keywords: Self-portrait, Photoshop, graphic arts, digital drawing tablet, arts
Subject(s): Art, English/Language Arts
Grades 6 through 7
NETS-S Standard:
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
  • Technology Operations and Concepts
View Full Text of Standards
School: MS 443, Brooklyn, NY, NY
Planned By: N Kokic
Original Author: M Israel, Brooklyn
This task is multifaceted in its purpose and impact. As an artistic element of graphic design, the self-portrait is the perfect foundational medium through which students study and apply: art elements (e.g., color-tint/shade, texture, space-positive and negative, value); principles of art (e.g., balance -asymmetry, emphasis, contrast, proportion, movement, repetition; and self-expression via an artistic lens (e.g., expressive, character, personality, highlight, body language, imitation, representational, collage, and composition): and aesthetics (e.g., imitational, expressive, formal, and symbolic).

As noted above, middle school students are deep into self-exploration. These tweens/teens are likely to ask themselves questions such as:

How smart am I in school subjects?
How skillful an athlete am I?
How well do I behave?
How physically attractive am I?
How much do others like me?
Do I have many good friends?
How romantically appealing am I?
How successful will I be in my career?

Theseare questions that frame a comprehensive, complex, and self-expressive self-portrait, which is representative of this wondering about and growth of self. The lesson plan follows

(Please note that there are images/diagrams that cannot be inserted in this online application.)


Learning: Students will be able to:

State outstanding elements of famous portraits and cite how these details tell a story
Be alert to the value of multi-cultural awareness
Examine and describe their sense of self in relation to others
Compare and contrast the technological tools -standard desktop computer and digital tablet to determine the effect on the production of a digital self-portrait

Skills Students will be able to:
Use technology (Photoshop, specifically) to create a portrait with details telling a personal a story
Create a portrait that invites viewers fully explore its personal and artistic meaning
Share visual and verbal information about themselves
Promote and stimulate the use written and oral language during and beyond the creative process
Build their interpersonal and online communication skills
Examine self in relation to others.

Attitude Students will be able to:
Appreciate the personal and artistic elements of famous portraits
Respect their classmates’ unique characteristics and ideas
Be alert to the value of the multi-cultural environment in which they learn and live

Motivation: Demonstration and discussion of portraits and portrait design, using PowerPoint as the creative tool.

1. Discuss and review with students what a self-portrait is.
A self-portrait is a representation of an artist, drawn, painted, photographed, sculpted, or made on the computer by the artist.

2. Introduce various famous portraits using PowerPoint to display and propel discussion about the pieces. Further student recognition of key elements in portraits, variations among periods and artists, how personalities and events are portrayed in portraits, etc.

3. Invite students to think about a drawing of themselves, beginning with a foundational design that they will jumpstart at home.

4. Guide students into the drawing of the their portraits using PowerPoint, with a focus on its tools: layers, brushes, cut and paste, color, among others. (In sixth grade, the portrait is students’ entry into PowerPoint as a graphic design vehicle; 7th graders build on their PhotoShop skills with a quick review prefacing their process.)

State Learning Standards

Standard 1- Creating, Performing & Participating in the Arts.
Performance Indicator C. Understand and use the elements and principles of art in order to communicate ideas.

Standard 2- Knowing & Using Art Materials & Resources.
Performance Indicator A. Understand the characteristics of various mediums (paint, clay, computer) and select ones that are most appropriate for particular purposes.

Standard 3 – Responding to & Analyzing Works of Art.
Performance Indicator A. Use the language of art criticism to describe the visual and functional characteristics of works of art, and to interpret the relationships of artwork to one another.

Step 1: Introduction to/Expansion of Self-Portrait

Grade 6: Students are introduced to what a self-portrait is-a representation of an artist, drawn, painted, photographed, sculpted, or made on the computer by the artist-in order for them to create their individual self-portraits that best represents themselves. Students begin the design process by asking themselves: What expression, posture, clothing, background, color, texture and style best express the real me? They then draw a portrait and photograph themselves using Photo Booth, and then launch Adobe Photoshop to create a file that they will build on as they move through the lesson.

Grade 7: Students expand on the Grade 6 self-portrait lesson to delve into the essence and design process more deeply. To begin, students fold a white piece of paper into 4s. Label each square in order as 1, 2, 3, 4. They draw on sketch in each box. Each sketch should be different, and represents individual students in different ways. For example, sketch 1 may be a drawing that shows a silly side, and sketch 2 may be a drawing that expresses a serious side. Students think about the positions of their head, what they are wearing on their heads, etc. Students consider how they want the world to view them. Or perhaps, where their self-portrait might rest: If it were hanging up in a museum, what kind of impression would they want to portray to the people stopping and looking at it?

For both grades, students work through a similar design process during which they walk through, step by step, how to use the various Photoshop tools. These steps are described below and presented as they would be presented to the students via Smartboard and a printed set of instructions. (Please note the shift in language as a result.)

Step Two: Photo Booth

1.Take a photograph of yourself in Photo Booth.

2.Your photograph must be a CLOSE-UP shot from the shoulders up. Think about how you want to portray yourself. What type of photographic visual describes your personality best? Explore various poses, such as from the front, the side, an unusual angle, holding an object in your hand, wearing a specific article of clothing (hat, scarf), smiling, frowning, being silly, etc.

3.Print out your photo on the black and white printer.

4.With your pencil, CIRCLE all the highlights, shadows, and mid-tones.

Highlight – The LIGHTEST spot or area in a painting, drawing or photograph.
Shadow – The DARKEST spot or area in a painting, drawing or photograph.
Mid-tone - A tone (color) that appears BETWEEN a scene's highlight and shadow areas.

Step Three: Photoshop

1. Create an 11 x 8 1/2 (HORIZONTAL) document in Photoshop. The document should be CMYK and 150dpi (resolution).

2. Import or drag your photograph from Photo Booth into Photoshop. Give the layer the name “PHOTO”.

3. Begin to TRACE your photograph with the PEN TOOL and LASSO TOOL. You will ONLY trace YOU, and NOT the background. As you are tracing your photograph, create a NEW FOLDER for each section of your face and body. Label your folder with the appropriate title. For example, “Head” is the title of a folder, “Eyes” is the title of a folder, “Ears” is the title of a folder, “Hair” is the title of a folder, “Neck & Shoulders” is the title of a folder, “Eyebrows” is a folder, etc. Each body part should remain in its appropriate titled folder

4. As you trace each body part with the pen tool it would be a good idea to SAVE YOUR PATH. This way if you need to select it again later on, you can just click on the save path and the layer will be selected.

Paths can be found in the same palette as Layers.
(Diagram cannot be shown here, but this is a visual that the teacher presents on the Smartboard to show the process.)

5. As you trace your photograph, fill in your selections with color. Move the EYE DROPPER tool over the area of the original photograph that you are trying to create, in order to help you choose the EXACT colors of your skin tone, hair, eyebrows, ears, mouth, nose, ect. If you want to CHANGE the color of your CLOTHING that is OK, but you MUST try to match the colors of your face and body as best as you can.

EYE DROPPER tool (this tool is shown on the Smartboard)

Step Four: Highlight, Shadows, and Mid-tones

1. Once you have your entire face, body, and clothing outlined and colored in you can start to make your HIGHLIGHTS, SHADOWS, and MID-TONES. If you don’t know what each word means, you can refer to page 1 of these instructions to read their definitions.
2. When creating your HIGHLIGHTS, SHADOWS, and MID-TONES make sure that you make them on a layer that is TITLED and PLACED in the appropriate folder. For example, if you are creating the shadows on your face, they should be made on a layer that is placed in the “Face Folder”.

Shadows (Again, here, there are diagrams that the students view on the smartboard, and then follow the process on their computers.)

1. START by making your SHADOWS FIRST. It is always good to start painting FROM DARKEST to LIGHTEST. That way you can layer your lighter tones and highlights on top of your shadows. MAKE SURE that your SHADOWS are on their OWN LAYER.
2. When making your shadows use the print out of your photograph as a reference tool, in order to see where you need to make them. First, trace your shadow with the PEN TOOL or LASSO TOOL. Next, use your EYE DROPPER TOOL to select the original color of your layer as the foreground color in your tool bar. Double click on your foreground color and choose a color that is a darker tone of your original color. For example, if your face in light peach then the shadows on your face will be dark peach. Next, take your SMUDGE TOOL located in your Tool Palette to blend and smooth out your shadow. When using the SMUDGE TOOL, you can go to the BRUSH PALETE and choose the size and type of brush you would like to use (The short-cut command to change your brush size is CONTROL and RIGHT CLICK YOUR MOUSE). You can also experiment blending your shadow by lowering the OPACITY and/or using the BLUR TOOL.
3. It is OK if you DON’T want to SMUDGE ALL of the AREAS of your shadows. It is OK to leave some areas MORE DEFINED than others.

Mid-tones: If you don’t know what a mid-tone is look at the first page of this handout.

1. Create your mid-tones the same way that you created your shadows. Your mid-tones should be painted on top of your shadows.
2. Choose a color for your mid-tone that is slightly lighter than the color of your shadow. Remember to blend your mid-tones into your shadows with the Smudge Tool.
3. It is OK if you DON’T want to SMUDGE ALL of the AREAS of your mid-tones. It is OK to leave some areas MORE DEFINED than others.
Highlights: If you don’t know what a highlight is look at the first page of this handout.
1. Create your highlights the same way that you created your mid-tones and shadows.
2. Your highlights should be painted on top of your mid-tones and shadows.
3. It is OK if you DON’T want to SMUDGE ALL of the AREAS of your highlights. It is OK to leave some areas MORE DEFINED than others.

The school’s graphic arts program uses large-screened desktop Macintosh computers, replete with a broad base of design software that students use to learn and practice their graphic design skills. Students use the computer mouse to create their artwork. While this is a standard tool and practice, some students find using the mouse difficult to draw with. And, it is true, a mouse is not actually a drawing utensil, and most designers and illustrators in the industry use the tablet, enabling greater detail and finer elements in their artwork. Thus, the longer-term goal is to secure about 36 digital drawing pads that give students an additional option for design. The tablet has multiple advantages, and can benefit student skills in varied ways. For example, tablets:

Enable students to produce a fluid, varied line similar to what can be achieved with a brush and ink.
Allow for a clean, digital image that can be easily manipulated with graphics
Give students who might not be comfortable with a mouse the more natural feel of the table pen, with which it can be easier to draw

Students will be able to use a tablet and the computer/mouse to compare and contrast, and then determine what works best for them as a tool-it could be that they settle on both since each offers a different type of design capacity. Because there will only be two tablets to start, during each period over several weeks, four students per class will have opportunities to transfer their desktop design to the tablet to further refine it. Through this interaction, students can share their tablet experience in order for the teacher to consider future purposes, integration into the program, training needed, etc.

The digital drawing tablet bolsters the school’s project-based computer graphic arts program invites students to communicate ideas using art and typography through software applications, including Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, iMovie, InDesign and Flash. The program enables each student to use the computer as a tool express his or her ideas visually and artistically through graphic design. The program goals are to:

Ground students in graphic design principles, concepts, and practices
Teach students to use computer-based graphic arts software
Generate appreciation for the discipline as a vehicle for self-expression, civic engagement, and marketing
Immerse students in the design world, from analyzing artwork to exploring different designers and their contributions to the field
Develop design and related technology skills to encourage the pursuit of graphic arts in higher education and as a future profession

Each year, over 240 students participate in the graphic arts program. All 6th graders, over 180, learn graphic arts basics. Most of these students have no graphic design experience. At the end of the 6th grade, students select the arts discipline in which they will major for the duration of their middle school experience. About 32 students select graphic arts, thus making the total number of majors in this area over 60 (7th and 8th grade total number of students).

The graphic arts lab is equipped with 36 Macintosh computers (which the Parent Association hopes to replace with newer models, as the current ones are old, cannot be upgraded, and cannot handle newer software that would benefit students). Each student has a user account, which is networked to a server, and uses this account to work individually on a computer during class. And, can also access his or her assignments and portfolios from home computers.

The graphic arts program is closely aligned with the city’s Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in Visual Arts and the state Learning Standards for the Arts. Moreover, as it integrates language arts/humanities, it fulfills several Common Core standards in the English Language Arts, including Reading (literature), writing, and speaking and listening, and corresponds perfectly with the National Standards for Visual Art (of The National Standards for Arts Education).

Sixth Grade In the 6th grade, students are immersed in graphic design principles and concepts. They begin navigating design software and tools through projects, including self-portraits, collage, book jacket designs, and advertisements. Sixth graders also delve into multimedia using iMovie: Specifically, they “invent” an original soft drink, create its packaging, and then “market” it by producing an iMovie commercial.

Language arts is incorporated into student design efforts (modeling the Common Core expectation of language arts integration across the curriculum). For example, culture is a theme the program covers. In their humanities class, 6th graders read the poem “I Am What I Am,” which is then built on in graphic arts as students study Romare Bearden’s culture-focused collages. Students draw on the poem and the artwork to write personal essays about their cultural heritage, and then, using Photoshop, create a digital collage, combined with typography, that visually represents their culture.
Seventh Grade In the seventh grade, graphic arts majors expand their skills, vision, creativity, and grasp of design concepts and principles through extended and refined usage of the software, especially Photoshop and Illustrator. They design poster, logo, package, and book designs with a deeper, more complex conceptual vision and skills set…and with greater attention paid to design elements in the world around them. In-class projects range from designing the school’s annual planner (that all students across grades use), to creating a weblog using Wordpress in order to display their work, to designing signage for school events, such as a tree care event last spring.
Built into the majors’ programming is language arts, as in the 6th grade, but with an expanded design focus. For example, last year, students created an Expressive Type Book, inspired by Maya Angelou’s poem “And Still I Rise.” (Log onto www.prestophoto.com/bookstore/155131 to see what students produced (and order a copy, if so inclined!).
Civics is also an element of the students’ study, driving their real-world understanding of the power of graphic arts in public messaging and marketing, especially as related to a social cause. Last year, students researched a variety of causes and selected to support an organization that helps abused animals. Thus emerged their fundraising organization, Animal Saving Cookies (ASC), for which they designed posters advertising a bake sale (that they organized), and created eye-catching packaging details for the cookies they made to sell. In the end, they raised over $300, which they donated to PETA and WWF.
The following links to student graphic arts blogs point to samples of their work and progress over time:
• http://mkartdesigns.wordpress.com/graphic-arts/
• http://designedbyme01.wordpress.com/porfolio/
• http://bnartist.wordpress.com/eportfolio/

Eighth grade In this grade, majors focus on content as they scaffold skills to create more complex designs for items such as posters, CD covers, miscellaneous packaging, and websites, using more advanced tools in Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, Flash, and web publishing. In this final year of middle school, they delve into the complex design world of animation. As in 7th grade, design work around social causes is also part of the syllabus: In this grade, students design an animated public service announcement (PSA) to awareness about an important issue (and one that often resonates with teens, such as depression, acceptance, and bullying). In this capacity, students research a cause, gather facts, create a tagline that incorporates this information, create a storyboard to ground their PSA messaging and progression, and then ultimately design the animation, which they publish on their blog and send to peers, family, and others to create awareness and prompt action.

Across grades, students have opportunities to collaboratively share and discuss their work as part of the creative design process. They discuss their visions, how they visually represented their ideas, and what they have learned from the experience. Students visit museums and companies that expose them to artwork and design, as well give them the opportunity to explore career choices in the graphic arts field.

Student work is displayed on bulletin boards in the school hallway by grade and theme. The most exciting exhibit comes at the end of the year with the annual Visual and Graphic Arts Showcase. Student work across grades and genres is professionally displayed in the school auditorium for parents, school staff, and other interested community members to see.

Student’s artistic growth and success are evident on a number of levels:
• Artwork progresses across grades in quality of content and presentation as students become more confident in their design ability
• Student application of software becomes more skilled during a year, and for majors, cumulatively over three years
• Students look at and comment on design in the world around them in a more critical way, e.g., using a discerning eye to examine art on the street and TV.
Students share their work with peers to describe what they learned and how that knowledge and skill are represented in their artwork.
Most sixth graders have no or minimal graphic arts background, are unaware of the possibilities of designing with computers, their attitudes ranging from trepidation to doubt to disinterest. As the year progresses, they shift to excitement and confidence.
Majors demonstrate artistic maturity through more conceptual work, i.e., through the PSA.
Some students purchase software to design at home on personal time. One student worked “off hours” to create the 2014-2015 student planner cover.
Many students excel artistically and academically, applying to desirable specialized high schools. One alumna speaks to the program’s impact: I took the graphics art class for three years. It inspired me to pursue my interests in art and design. I learned many great skills. These are what allowed me to get into my top choice for high school.
Students apply to a range of arts-centered high schools, with some focused specifically on the graphic arts. Their portfolios are a critical aspect of the admissions process, and what lands them in specialized high schools.
Students, who benefit from the graphic arts program, as entering 6th graders and then as majors, become active, technologically and artistically advanced individuals, with a unique skills base that can lead them to arts- and/or tech-centered higher education and careers.

Overall, the graphic arts program reflects research that points to how arts courses
during the middle school years develop students’ sense of self-confidence and self-efficacy. One study that best connects to this program found that students involved in a media arts technology program felt more confident in their ability to use arts and technology tools to design and build something new (Betts, 2006). (www.artsedsearch.org/students/research-by-age-level/middle-school)
Cross-Curriculum Ideas
Literacy: Students develop personal essays/descriptive narratives (autobiographies to accompany their self-portraits
History/Social Studies: Students further explore the historic periods in which famous artists presented in the lesson lived and practiced their craft
Technology: Students delve into how technology changes the essence of the self-portrait, and in this case, how different types of equipment enhance, alter, etc., this art form
Mathematics: Students delve into the mathematical components involved in design, with a focus on measure and size, and how these influence design products
Possible activities include:
Returning in the 8th grade to the 6th and 7th grade portraits to explore individual change and self-perception, and to convey change through storytelling
Generate a class storytelling that uses all student portraits to describe lives of young people in the 21st century
Extend exploration of self-portraits to present change over time, particularly with the insertion of computer graphic arts (links below)
Links: Link to National Portrait Gallert
Self portraits across the ages
History of Self-Portraiture
Materials: Wacom Tablets, Microscopes
Other Items: 4 Wacom Intuos Pro Pen & Touch Medium tablets , $4000/pack each